REFLECTING ON MY BOOKWORM’S JOURNEY…

When I look at some of my trinkets and collectibles, like those above, I am reminded of all kinds of journeys, like the one in The Wizard of Oz.

I found this post from a year ago, and started thinking about all of the journeys along life’s roads.  This post is from December 21, 2018:

 

I feel as though I have wandered down my own Yellow Brick Road in my journey to books and blogging.  It has been more than ten years since I created my first blog, and since then, there have been a few attempts to go above and beyond, with as many as twenty blogs at one point.  Happily, I now have six.  If you enjoy rambling tales, you could check out My Blogging Journey, over at my Potpourri blog.

I just reread it all, and I sighed a little at the ups and downs.  I was very happy to add this particular blog (in 2009), where I track my purchases, my review books, and my reading.  Seriously, I am finding many uses for that information.

Here is a stack of my TBR when I created this blog.  I moved into this downsized space with boxes of these books, and I refused to include them with the books I’d read, on those shelves.  Since then, I have also donated a few hundred of the books I had already read and reviewed. 

While I have whittled down most of those stacks, I have added a few more.  But they are primarily hiding out on Paige, my Kindle.  Sneaky, right?

I have also utilized the Goodreads site to keep track, as I eventually updated my pages here to include books from 2014 forward.

So…to sum up this particular Bookworm’s Journey, I use blogs to help me with my reading, writing, etc.   With the holidays around the corner, I still look forward to those gift cards that allow me to add more books to my shelves.

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What a difference a year makes!  Most of you know I have had a journey through some health issues this year, and moved into a much smaller space than the one I had for the past twelve years.  Into this small space, I brought only a few print books, but I have already started filling up those shelves.  My hardcover books that arrive regularly from Amazon are like the beginning of another journey.  Here are the few I’m waiting to read:

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What does your journey look like?

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MY JOURNEY THROUGH BOOKS AND BLOGS…

When I changed up my header this week, I added the above photo to the right side of my banner to spotlight my own bookish contributions, with a peek at my Wizard of Oz characters that illustrate my bookish journey. 

I feel as though I have wandered down my own Yellow Brick Road in my journey to books and blogging.  It has been more than ten years since I created my first blog, and since then, there have been a few attempts to go above and beyond, with as many as twenty blogs at one point.  Happily, I now have six.  If you enjoy rambling tales, you could check out My Blogging Journey, over at my Potpourri blog.

I just reread it all, and I sighed a little at the ups and downs.  I was very happy to add this particular blog (in 2009), where I track my purchases, my review books, and my reading.  Seriously, I am finding many uses for that information.

Here is a stack of my TBR when I created this blog.  I moved into this downsized space with boxes of these books, and I refused to include them with the books I’d read, on those shelves.  Since then, I have also donated a few hundred of the books I had already read and reviewed. 

While I have whittled down most of those stacks, I have added a few more.  But they are primarily hiding out on Paige, my Kindle.  Sneaky, right?

I have also utilized the Goodreads site to keep track, as I eventually updated my pages here to include books from 2014 forward.

So…to sum up this particular Bookworm’s Journey, I use blogs to help me with my reading, writing, etc.   With the holidays around the corner, I still look forward to those gift cards that allow me to add more books to my shelves.  Mostly e-books, though.  I am expecting a hardcover book next week, as I love books with photos, and this one will be one to savor:

Wallis in Love, by Andrew Morton

***

Today I hope to finish an e-book that I’ve been reading off and on since early in the week:

Gone So Long, by Andre Dubus III

I have read and loved other books by this author, but my favorite so far was House of Sand and Fog, and the movie based on the book, starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley.

***

So…I have offered just a peek at my journey, but I hope you enjoyed the somewhat convoluted path I have taken.

What does your journey look like?

***

REVIEW: THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE, BY MELANIE BENJAMIN

 

It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers”—the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title “America’s Sweetheart.” The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.

 

My Thoughts: In the beginning of The Girls in the Picture, we meet Frances Marion. It is 1969, and she is reflecting on the past. She is about to visit Mary Pickford again after an estrangement of many years. I liked starting at “the end,” and then I wanted to know more about the journey.

What a journey it is! Mary is already acting when she and Frances meet, and as their bond grows, Mary pulls her in by persuading her to write scenarios for her, as she admires her writing style. Their team work begins in the era of silent movies. Slowly they become a brilliant duo, and almost from the beginning, they enjoy personal time together, too.

But the men in the industry and in their lives slowly pull them apart, and when “talkies” come along, everything changes for Mary. She doesn’t quite know how to flow with the new style, and other issues are interfering in her ability to act, too.

The journey plodded for me…and then, suddenly, as we come to the end, the intensity builds and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I would have loved the book more if the middle hadn’t sagged for me. However, I did like learning more about the Old Hollywood era, and the author’s writing style kept me engaged. 4 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

CURL UP WITH “WHAT WAS MINE”

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Welcome to another Waiting on Wednesday event, hosted by Jill, at Breaking the Spine.

Every week, we gather around the blogosphere and search out the upcoming book releases, sharing our thoughts and blurbs.  Today I am eagerly awaiting a book from an author I have never read, but I love the sound of this one.

What Was Mine, by Helen Klein Ross, is the story of a woman who kidnaps a baby in a superstore…and gets away with it for twenty-one years.  This book was actually released today, January 5, 2016...and I can’t wait to get it.

 

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Lucy Wakefield is a seemingly ordinary woman who does something extraordinary in a desperate moment: she takes a baby girl from a shopping cart and raises her as her own. It’s a secret she manages to keep for over two decades—from her daughter, the babysitter who helped raise her, family, coworkers, and friends.

When Lucy’s now-grown daughter Mia discovers the devastating truth of her origins, she is overwhelmed by confusion and anger and determines not to speak again to the mother who raised her. She reaches out to her birth mother for a tearful reunion, and Lucy is forced to flee to China to avoid prosecution. What follows is a ripple effect that alters the lives of many and challenges our understanding of the very meaning of motherhood.

Author Helen Klein Ross, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, weaves a powerful story of upheaval and resilience told from the alternating perspectives of Lucy, Mia, Mia’s birth mother, and others intimately involved in the kidnapping. What Was Mine is a compelling tale of motherhood and loss, of grief and hope, and the life-shattering effects of a single, irrevocable moment.

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What do you think?  Does this story grab you?

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REVIEW: BELZHAR, BY MEG WOLITZER

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When sixteen-year-old Jam Gallahue arrives at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in Vermont, she has to put the devastation of her life in New Jersey behind her. Or try to do so. She must forget all about the boy she loved for forty-one days. The British exchange student named Reeve Maxfield.

Almost immediately, she is drawn into a group of students in a very unique English class, taught by Mrs. Quenell.

None of the students know why each one has been chosen, but the class sets them apart in many ways. First of all, they study only one writer throughout the semester. And a big part of what they do involves special journals in which they are urged to write. During this semester, these students will be studying Sylvia Plath.

What happens to each of them when they write in those journals? Where do they go, and how does the special place they call Belzhar (created from the title The Bell Jar) help them heal?

Even as they draw closer to the traumas in their lives through their time in Belzhar, they are also bonding with one another. Now they are forced to decide what to do when the journals fill up. How will they “let go” of Belzhar and move on? And what surprises await Jam when she finally confronts what happened between her and Reeve? With each trip to Belzhar, more about the traumas of each character is revealed.

Narrated in Jam’s first person voice, we are slowly offered glimpses into her emotional life, and finally, surprisingly, we are shown what really happened between Jam and Reeve, a twist I didn’t see coming.

Belzhar was a unique journey into the emotional traumas of each character, like a magical voyage that could finally help them each deal with their losses. A beautiful story that left me remembering what it felt like to be emotionally raw with all that teenage angst, and how a new perspective can change everything. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: LIFE AFTER LIFE, BY KATE ATKINSON

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On February 11, 1910, Ursula Todd was born on a snowy evening in Fox Corner, England. And then died. She was born again on the same date, and over the next several years, experienced a number of births and deaths.

Life After Life: A Novel is the story of those incarnations.

She is one of several siblings, born to Sylvie and Hugh Todd, with Maurice and Pamela as her elder siblings, and Teddy and Jimmy the younger ones.

The story is crafted in such a way that the reader realizes when these deaths and rebirths are occurring by a series of words, like “darkness falls;” and when a new chapter begins, the date that captions it tells us where the story of Ursula’s life will resume.

The first several chapters were tedious and repetitive, in my opinion, but then Ursula’s story seemed to take off and it was easier to follow. Sometimes it was quite a relief for another “death” to occur, as she managed to get into some horrific situations.

Occasionally I even forgot about the incarnations, and I liked how, even though Ursula did not realize what was happening to her, she had feelings of deja vu and a unique sixth sense that followed her throughout her life. And when the author brought Ursula into the settings of several historical events, like the Third Reich, and illustrated how someone can be swept away by such happenings, I could not stop turning the pages.

An enjoyable journey along the “roads not taken,” I would recommend this book to those who like to experience what might seem unimaginable. Personally, I would have liked fewer pages, since I got to the point where I wanted it to end already. But toward the end, I could not help but feel a sense of wonder at the continuous loop of life portrayed. And this statement by Ursula’s younger brother: “What if we had the chance to do it again and again,” Teddy said, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Indeed. 4 stars.

REVIEW: FINDING COLIN FIRTH, BY MIA MARCH

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It would be a life-changing summer in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, for the three women whose lives are at a turning point.

Bea is in search of her birth mother; Gemma, newly pregnant, is hoping to figure out how to overcome the differences between herself and her husband Alexander; and Veronica, who has returned to Boothbay Harbor after many years away, hopes to face up to and confront the pain of the past.

And in the middle of it all, a movie starring Colin Firth is in production.

How will the women find what they are seeking? Will they realize how their lives can move forward in spite of their issues? And what will Colin Firth add to the mix…if anything?

I loved the stories that featured the perspectives of the three women, and felt as though they were friends with whom I would like to sit and enjoy coffee and pie. Veronica is the cozy foodie who bakes magically healing “elixir pies.” Bea is surprisingly open in her quest for her birth mother. And Gemma is someone to whom many women can relate, with her journey toward finding out how to combine motherhood and work, and where to begin the new life. Finding Colin Firth: A Novel was really about each woman’s search for something missing in her life, or something that requires change.

The Three Captains’ Inn, where Gemma stays with old friends June and Isabel, took me back to The Meryl Streep Movie Club…where the same inn is at the heart of that story. It was great to revisit these characters, and see how the new ones connected. Movie nights were also a feature in this story, with Colin Firth films spotlighted that month. A feel good story that earned 4 stars.

A QUEST, A MYSTERY, & FAMILY CONNECTIONS — A REVIEW

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From a cottage in the English countryside in the year 1803, to a manor house in England in the 1940s, a rare and unique camellia takes center stage in a mystery and a journey. And in New York at the New Millennium, a botanist named Addison Sinclair finds herself on her own journey to learn more about the gardens in that same manor house now belonging to her husband’s family.

The Last Camellia: A Novel sweeps across the years to tell the story and to introduce the reader to the families whose gardens feature the exquisite flower. And despite the lovely rare blooms, or sometimes because of them, we also see the sadness, the loss, and the betrayals that surround them all. Narrated in the first person voice of Flora, in 1940, and Addison, in 2000, the shifting perspective brought out each woman’s story very effectively.

What lengths would flower thieves go to in order to obtain a rare camellia called the Middlebury Pink? How does a woman named Flora, trying to save her parents in New York, become mixed up in a plot to steal the flower? And how will love and family connections change the course of her life? Will she be one of a group of women who mysteriously disappears and never returns?

There were a number of curious incidences and unanswered questions that finally came together near the end of the story. Some seemingly isolated threads converged to bring out a mystical connection between the characters. An unforgettable story that I enjoyed thoroughly, although there were a few extraneous episodes that seemed unnecessary. Therefore, four stars.

FRIENDSHIP, SUMMER BREEZES, & SECRETS — A REVIEW

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Charlotte and Nicole were once the best of friends, spending summers together in Nicole’s coastal island house off of Maine. But many years, and many secrets, have kept the women apart. A successful travel writer, single Charlotte lives on the road, while Nicole, a food blogger, keeps house in Philadelphia with her surgeon-husband, Julian. When Nicole is commissioned to write a book about island food, she invites her old friend Charlotte back to Quinnipeague, for a final summer, to help. Outgoing and passionate, Charlotte has a gift for talking to people and making friends, and Nicole could use her expertise for interviews with locals. Missing a genuine connection, Charlotte agrees.

When Charlotte agrees to join her best friend Nicole for a summer on Quinnipeague, the island in Maine that was their favorite vacation spot for years, she is filled with trepidation.  For she hasn’t seen Nicole for ten years, and the underlying betrayal that has increased her feeling of distance from her friend is not enough to keep her away.  But Nicole, a blogger with a huge following, wants to write the cookbook and needs Charlotte’s help with the interviews.  Nicole has her own secret, one she has kept for four years.  Will she be able to share it with Charlotte?  Will she feel as though she is betraying her husband Julian?

Will the friendship bonds help them traverse the distance between them?  What will the summer bring?

Herbs and other island productions will be the centerpiece of the book, along with Nicole’s menus and presentations.

On the island lies Cecily’s Garden, as well.  A mystical presence, the woman’s herbs have a huge following of their own.  Will her mysterious son Leo allow them to photograph the gardens?  How will Charlotte connect with Leo and why does she keep coming back to him?  What is his secret and how will it impact the budding relationship?

I loved how the author showcased the foods, the herbs, and the island ambience…so much so that I could literally feel myself transported there.  I could definitely smell the Sweet Salt Air.  The revelation of the secrets was well-paced,  and even though part of Charlotte’s secret came out fairly soon to the reader, the rest of it was unexpected.  And the consequences of that one act of betrayal would have an unexpected outcome.

My feeling of connection to the characters alternated, as sometimes I was annoyed beyond words with Nicole and her little-girl voice and attitudes.  Charlotte had her negative qualities, too, but in the end, she was the one I could most relate to.  4.5 stars.

A FASCINATING JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY — A REVIEW

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In 1930s London, esteemed artist Nick Bassington-Hope falls to his death the night before a much anticipated exhibition of his latest work. While the police determine it to be an accident, his twin sister Georgina has doubts. As a result, she hires Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, to conduct her own inquiry.

As Maisie begins the process in her own unique way, she interviews those closest to the victim, while at the same time, learning more about the art world and the victim himself.

Unexpected events draw her into the strange underworld as she follows the paths she discovers along the road to her final outcome.

What familial connections will lead her to some of her final judgments? How will she ultimately discover the hiding place for the missing last work? And how will she bring her investigation to a close?

In this fourth Maisie Dobbs novel, Messenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs) reveals bits and pieces of Maisie’s earlier life and some of what transpired in previous novels. As this was my first read in the series, I realized that it would have been helpful to read the other books first. However, I was able to maneuver through this one and come to understand Maisie as a character. Her style of investigating was intriguing, as she used meditation, internal dialogue, and a map that charted her progress. In the absence of the kind of technology contemporary investigators take for granted, her style felt like a fascinating journey of discovery.

A story of war, social injustice, and familial disputes led me along new pathways in my discovery of a talented author I had previously not read. The author showed me the contemplative process that defined Maisie Dobbs and made her intriguing. She also showed me the world of London after the war and during a time that meant hardship for many. On the cusp of a new beginning, that world in which the wealthy and the poor interact in a socially proscribed manner is all set to change in unexpected ways. Four stars.